October 29, 2007

Sprint Football Edges Princeton in Season Finale

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Senior defensive end Steve Attanasio lined up for what would be the last second down of his career. The Red held a 14-7 lead, but Army was driving and had just crossed into Red territory. There was less than 20 seconds on the clock, and as each second ticked away, Attanasio’s career was coming one second closer to its finish. The only thing that would extend the defensive end’s three-year career would be overtime. Attanasio, along with twelve other seniors, wanted to end their careers in regulation.
With the rain coming down, Army’s junior quarterback Abe Payne took the snap. Payne’s eyes were trying to spot an open receiver in the sea of Red defensive backs. Attanasio fixed his eyes on Payne. With no open receivers, Payne scrambled right, reached the edge of the pocket, and saw a lane. The Black Knight quarterback ran for the gap, where he was met by the extended right arm of the Red defensive end. Attanasio brought down Payne, and with him all hope of a Black Knight comeback.
“They were near midfield, and I was coming from the left pushing on quarterback contain,” Attanasio said. “The QB tried to run up the gap, and I grabbed his armband with my right hand. The armband actually ripped off, then I grabbed his leg, and as he fell to the ground I was there holding his armband. At that point, I knew we were going to win the game.”
Following Attanasio’s sack and a spike to stop the clock on third down, the Black Knights of Army (2-4, 1-2 CSFL) faced fourth down with seven seconds left, needing a touchdown from midfield to force overtime.
“We knew we weren’t coming off the field without a win, especially for the seniors,” said junior Matt Malleo. “They needed to leave the field winners, because they are winners.”
With one final chance to score, Payne’s pass got tipped by a Red defender before falling into the hands of Army senior James Antonides. Malleo brought Antonides down thirteen yards short of the end zone, giving the Red (4-2, 2-2 CSFL) the victory in its final game of the season.
“I knew there were seven or eight seconds left, so I sprinted back to protect the end zone,” Malleo said. “I didn’t want to get suckered in if the ball got tipped, so I knew I wasn’t going to let anyone in the end zone.”
The Red positioned itself for the victory by getting out to an early lead in the first quarter, scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Zak Dentes to junior Jack Rossman. With the score, the Red surpassed the previous school record of 153 points in a season set by the 1982 CSFL champion Red. With 14 points on Friday, the 2007 squad ended the year with 162 points.
After holding Army’s offense in check for the majority of the first half, the Black Knights drove to the Red two-yard line with two seconds remaining in the half. The Black Knights opted to go for the touchdown, but Payne fumbled the snap and Army headed into halftime without putting any points on the board.
“That stop was huge and definitely pumped us up, especially the defense,” said senior tri-captain Glenn Palmer. “But offensively we hadn’t been moving the ball too much, so we wanted to come out in the second half and move the ball more.”
The Red did just that, putting together a scoring drive in its first possession of the second half. After a roughing the kicker penalty gave the Red renewed life and a first down at the Army 19-yard line, coach Bill Walker called for Miami Vice. It was the first time the Red attempted the play in a game this season.
Malleo, who leads the Red with four rushing touchdowns and three receiving scores, added a touchdown pass to his resume by taking a handoff from Dentes and completing the halfback pass to sophomore Chris LaBerge.
“It’s called Miami Vice,” Malleo said. “I sweep right and take the handoff and toss the ball to LaBerge. It was a great call by coach Walker and LaBerge got himself open. It was a great play call and LaBerge got open.”
The Red did not score again, clinging to the 14-0 lead until Payne connected with Army junior Geoffrey Phillips for a touchdown with just over 11 minutes left to play. The touchdown brought the score to 14-7, which is where it would remain until time expired.
Cornell’s season-ending victory brought a positive end to a 2007 campaign riddled with injuries to key players and several bad breaks. Finishing 4-2 overall after last year’s undefeated performance gave the Red its first consecutive winning seasons since 1986-88. A 2-2 conference record, however, will likely place the Red third in the CSFL behind Navy and Penn. If Princeton is able to upset the Quakers on Friday, Cornell will tie Penn for second place.
2007 was a year in which several big plays defined the season. Some were turning points in Red victories, others were critical in the Red’s two losses this year.
If four plays in Cornell’s losses to Navy and Penn had gone differently, Cornell’s 2-2 CSFL record may have looked more like 4-0. In the 35-14 loss to Navy, Cornell allowed three touchdown plays of more than fifty yards. In the 35-28 overtime loss to Penn, the Red had a first-and-goal from the one-yard line and couldn’t punch it in.
“We’ve had a couple of injuries and a couple bad breaks, other than those we could be repeating,” said senior tri-captain Ben Abramoff. “The program has made such a turnaround in the last four years. Now we handed it to Army for two years in a row, which we haven’t done in twenty years. That says a lot about these guys.”
“It was bitter sweet to have the season end, but it was nice to go out on a high note by winning,” Palmer said. “Beating Army vindicated the loss to Penn last week and everything we’ve been through. If we lost, I would have considered the season a failure. Beating Army made everything worth while.”